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Archive for the ‘Governor’s Office’ Category

With a flurry of (count ‘em) 37 bills dealing with gambling gaming, there is probably none more interesting to the folks in Tangipahoa Parish than identical bills introduced in the Senate (SB-417) and House (HB-438) that would facilitate the move of a Bossier Parish casino to property along the Tangipahoa River.

Brent Stephens is owner of the current license for Diamond Jacks in Bossier City. He and his company, Peninsula Pacific, acquired the license for Diamond Jacks in June 2016 after Legends, the previous owner, was released from bankruptcy the previous year. Stephens operates at least two other gaming properties in Louisiana—the Amelia Belle in Amelia in St. Mary Parish following Hurricane Katrina, and Evangeline Downs in Opelousas in St. Landry Parish.

His first choice for relocating Diamond Jacks was Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish but he encountered a couple of insurmountable snags: he couldn’t get political support and he couldn’t find any landowners willing to sell.

He then turned his attention to Tangipahoa Parish and was initially looking at sites around Manchac adjacent to I-55 but abandoned that idea for reasons known only to him.

He then settled on an area south and west of Hammond along I-12.

And though the governor has made a point of staying out of all the gaming legislation (with the exception of two: a non-gaming-related proposal involving Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans and one to permit gaming on land within 1200 feet of an authorized berthing site, both of which he supports, he has said he would sign the Tangipahoa Parish bill if it made it to his desk.

And that is one great big IF—as in, not likely.

Despite strong support from Parish President Robby Miller, the parish council, and 48 percent and a large contingent still undecided among Tangipahoa Parish voters, there remains two chances—slim and none—that the Tangipahoa River will become a Mecca for casino gamblers.

That’s because of the formation of a rather unique alliance against the proposal: Tangipahoa Parish churches and video poker.

Whoever coined the phrase that politics makes strange bedfellows was dead right. There can be no stranger bedfellows than fire-and-brimstone-breathing protestant ministers and video poker operators.

And while ministers can exert considerable influence, video poker operators are every bit as powerful, if not more so. That’s because while casino operators are prohibited from making political contributions, there are no such restrictions on the video poker industry.

Video poker interests are well-represented on both sides of the legislative aisles, meaning they spread a lot of campaign money around and enjoy substantial influence at the capitol.

Throw in State Rep. Sherman Mack and you have some formidable opposition.

  • Mack, from the Livingston Parish town of Albany, just happens to be Chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee.
  • Mack is casting a lustful eye at the district attorney’s office for the 21st Judicial District which includes the parishes of Livingston, St. Helena and….Tangipahoa.
  • That office is currently occupied by four-term DA Scott Perrilloux who is considered vulnerable.
  • Mack does not want to be labeled as a “pro-gaming” legislator should he decide to challenge Perrilloux.

HB-438 was introduced by Rep. Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula) and SB-438 by Sen. Bodi White (R-Central). Only White’s bill has made it out of committee (on March 20) and it now awaits debate on the Senate floor. Should it pass the full Senate, it will then be sent to Sherman’s committee where in all likelihood, it will die an ugly death.

And therein lies the real political story.

The bill does two things:

  • It authorizes the Tangipahoa River as a designated waterway on which gaming may be conducted, and
  • It calls for a parish-wide referendum.

But in case it passes the full Senate, makes it out of Mack’s Criminal Justice Committee, and gains approval by the full House, then and only then does the proposal move onto the State Gaming Board which would have to approve the move.

Because the Tangipahoa is barely large enough to entertain tubers and the occasional Bateau boat, it ain’t about to accommodate a full-blown floating casino. The alternative would be a “free-standing” casino and the odds of that getting approved are pretty long.

Just another example of the interesting political issues that color Tangipahoa Parish.

 

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State Rep. Dustin Miller (D-Opelousas) has filed HOUSE BILL 724 that would provide an exception to certain provisions of the state ethics code that would allow a Louisiana Department of Health physician to skirt a conflict of interests—in other words, to circumvent the very situation ethics rules were put into place to prevent.

Miller’s bill would allow the physician, Dr. Harold Brandt, to perform in a dual capacity that has already been rejected by the ethics board in a 2016 RULING.

The ruling of July 18, 2016 informed Dr. Sreyram Kuy that he could not accept employment with a healthcare provider that accepted Medicaid payments for medical services because of her position as Medicaid Medical Director, Chief Medical Officer of the Bureau of Health Services Financing (BHSF) within the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), now LDH.

The decision, written by Jennifer T. Land, read, “The Board concluded…that the Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits you from being employed as a surgeon for OLOL (Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center), other Louisiana licensed hospitals and other healthcare providers that accept Medicaid payments for medical services while you serve as Medicaid Medical Director/Chief Medical Officer of BHSF.”

Land cited the specific section which said the code “prohibits a public servant from receiving compensation for services rendered to the following persons: (1) those who have or are seeking to obtain a business, contractual or financial relationship with the public servant’s agency, (2) those who conduct operations or activities that are regulated by the public servant’s agency, and (3) those who have a substantial economic interest that could be affected by the performance or non-performance of the public servant’s official duty. OLOL, other Louisiana licensed hospitals and other healthcare providers that accept Medicaid payments for medical services are regulated by your agency, BHSF. Therefore, as the Medicaid Medical Director/Chief Medical Officer of BHSF, you are prohibited from being employed by or from providing compensated services to these entities.”

What makes Miller’s bill particularly interesting, however, is that both Dr. Kuy’s predecessor, LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee, and his successor, Dr. Harold Brandt, each worked in that same position without bothering to request an ethics ruling, apparently falling back on the Nike slogan “Just do it.”

In fact, in the case of Dr. Brandt, LouisianaVoice has been informed that he was reappointed to the position with the proviso that Miller’s bill would be introduced in order to change the existing law to accommodate him. This despite the fact that an ethics review was requested of LDH legal to determine if such an arrangement was acceptable, and the answer was no, according to sources.

On Jan. 25, LouisianaVoice published a story in which it was revealed that Dr. Brandt previously served as Medical Vendor Administrator (Medicaid Medical Director) for LDH from April 7, 2016 to Sept. 2, 2017 at a rate of $156.25 per hour while he simultaneously served on the staff of BATON ROUGE CLINIC, which received $83,000 in PAYMENTS from LDH during Dr. Brandt’s tenure at LDH.

the Medical Director serves as chairman of the Medical Quality Review Committee, so LDH legal was asked for a second opinion whether any ethics concerns existed in regards to that capacity.

The response was the following potential issues identified under the Code of Governmental Ethics. The Medicaid Quality Committee (Committee) of the Louisiana Department of Health, Bureau of Health Services Financing, fulfills the role of the Medical Care Advisory Committee required by 42 CFR 431.12.  According to its Bylaws, the Committee provides focus and direction for Medicaid program quality activities that assure access and utilization of quality, evidence-based healthcare that is designed to meet the health needs of all Louisiana Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) recipients through:

  • Establishing and maintaining sound business and clinical practices/benchmarks that ensure a system of internal controls and support optimal performance within established thresholds;
  • Driving meaningful and measurable collaboration between the LDH agencies BHSF, Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), Office of Public Health (OPH), Office of Aging and Adult Services (OAAS), and Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (OCDD), with a focus on demonstrating improved care and service for Medicaid recipients by using evidence-based guidelines;
  • Creating and sustaining a vibrant evaluation process for Louisiana Medicaid benefits and services and health care delivery systems that is based on integrity, accountability, and transparency;
  • Offering expertise and experience of Committee members to recommend improvements to BHSF that will serve to better meet the healthcare needs of recipients in a cost efficient manner;
  • Sharing Committee recommendations with recipients, providers and policy leaders; and
  • Forming subcommittees to address specific areas of care, as needed.

The Committee’s functions are advisory and shall include:

  • Monitoring ongoing metrics and ensuring findings are reported on a regularly scheduled basis (quarterly or annually);
  • Ensuring key quality initiatives are identified to align with regulatory and business requirements;
  • Overseeing quality improvement projects and ensuring coordination and integration of the quality improvement activities;
  • Reviewing performance results and providing feedback and recommendations to the MCO action plans; and
  • Participating in the evaluation of the Medicaid Quality Program by evaluating the quality, continuity, accessibility, and availability of the medical care rendered within Louisiana.

The Secretary of LDH appoints all non-permanent Committee members, which must include board-certified physicians and other health professionals familiar with the medical needs of low-income population groups and with the resources available and required for their care, in accordance with 42 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 431.12(d).  Additionally, the members of the standing subcommittees are appointed by the Louisiana Medicaid Medical Director, who serves as the permanent Chair of the Committee.

La. R.S. 42:1113B prohibits an appointed member of any board or commission, member of his immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a substantial economic interest from bidding on or entering into or being in any way interested in any contract, subcontract, or other transaction which is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the agency of such appointed member.

As such, La. R.S. 42:1113B would prohibit Medicaid providers from serving, despite 42 CFR 431.12(d) effectively requiring they be appointed to the Committee or subcommittees. LDH should consider proposing an amendment to the Code of Governmental Ethics to provide an exception for Medicaid providers appointed to serve on the Medicaid Quality Committee or any of its subcommittees.

Unconfirmed reports said that Brandt prevailed upon Gov. John Bel Edwards to write Dr. Gee to request that he be allowed to continue serving as Medical Director for LDH.

An attempt was made to reach Dr. Brandt at LDH but his phone line was forwarded to a non-working number. The Department of Civil Service has no record of his employment after last Sept. 2.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request of LDH for all correspondence between Dr. Brandt and Edwards, between Dr. Brandt and Dr. Gee and between Edwards and Dr. Gee relative to Brandt’s employment.

LDH received an email today (April 3) from LDH to the effect that it would take 30 days to provide such records. It takes only a simple keystroke to retrieve such messages from email files, however. They can be produced in a matter of seconds.

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State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) sometimes seems to be Louisiana’s answer to California Gov. Jerry Brown, aka Moonbeam.

Claitor can sometimes be an example of what we should expect from our legislators but far more often than not, fail to get. He also can do a spot-on Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation.

For instance, it was Claitor who filed a lawsuit to stop fellow Sen. Neil Riser’s sneakier than sneaky attempt to (illegally) inflate then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by, it eventually turned out, some $100,000 per year.

Points for Dan Claitor.

Claitor also filed a bill way back in 2012 that would have prevented legislators from leaving the House or Senate and taking six-figure political jobs in order to boost their retirement. That bill caused Sen. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie) to practically go slightly ballistic—possibly because he could see an opportunity slipping away for himself.

The impetus behind Claitor’s doomed bill was Bobby Jindal, who was handing out those jobs like a lecherous old man giving candy to little kids

Claitor’s bill was defeated even as it became known that Jindal had appointed former legislators to lucrative jobs for which they possessed few, if any, qualifications.

Cases in point included:

  • Noble Ellingtonof Winnsboro, appointed to the second position in the Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year;
  • Jane Smithof Bossier City, appointed to position of Deputy Secretary in the Department of Revenue at $107,500 per year;
  • Troy Hebertof Jeanerette, appointed Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board at $107,500per year;
  • Kay Katzof Monroe, named member of the Louisiana Tax Commission at $56,000 per year;
  • Nick Gautreauxof Meaux, named Commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles at $107,000;
  • Tank Powelland  J. “Mert” Smiley, both named to the pardon board at $36,000 per year—Smiley to serve only until he took office as Ascension Parish tax assessor;
  • Former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, named Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at $165,000, and
  • Former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, new Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery at $150,000per year.

Points for Claitor for his quixotic tilting at windmills.

So, what’s with his SENATE BILL 276 in the current legislative session? Is he now acting out his Mr. Hyde role?

Claitor, who will be 57 later this year, is trying to push through a constitutional amendment that, if passed by voters, would bar anyone who is 70 or older from serving in the legislature or from holding statewide elective office.

In a magnanimous gesture of goodwill, however, his bill does stipulate that any officeholder who reaches age 70 while in office would be able to complete his term.

Wow. Thanks, I guess, from the Old Geezer Gallery. Claitor can certainly expect a Christmas card from State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon this year (he’ll be 74 by that time).

It’s uncertain, without time-consuming research, just how many legislators would be disqualified to hold office under terms of Claitor’s benevolent bill, but my State Representative, J. Rogers Pope will be 77 later this year and I kinda like the job he’s done for the citizens of Livingston Parish. Senate President John Alario, considered the most able legislator whether or not you agree with him, is 74 (15 days older than yours truly but don’t worry: I’m not running for office).

And there is a gaggle of legislators well under Claitor’s self-imposed age of demarcation who, based on their collective performance in addressing the state’s fiscal problems, should already be out the door well before reaching their septuagenarian years. As a group, they’ve proven themselves to be inept, greedy, ambitious, petty, obstructionist, partisan hacks—and that’s sugar-coating it.

Apparently, Claitor, an attorney, has never heard of the AGE DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT ACT. Which forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older (did I mention that Claitor is 56?).

Initially, I thought Claitor, in a snit of self-righteousness, might be aiming his bill at Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who is embroiled in a dandy sexual harassment lawsuit by a former employee (Schedler admits having sex with the plaintiff, but says it was consensual, which she denies). The entire affair (poor choice of words) has more or less captured the interest of political junkies in Baton Rouge who thought Schedler ran one of the more upstanding, scandal-free agencies until this story broke.

But a quick check reveals that Schedler is 68. He will be 70 on Jan. 24, 2020, only days after the new terms of office for state officials and legislators begin which would mean that Schedler, if he remains in office and is re-elected, would be able to complete his next term under Claitor’s proposed guidelines.

Regardless, Claitor has royally ticked off a few senior citizens who are aware of his bill. Among them is former State Budget Director Stephen Winham of St. Francisville, who just happens to be 70. The bill wouldn’t affect Winham unless he plans to run for office, but he nevertheless was rankled by Claitor’s attempt at slamming the door on those who do aspire to office but have reached the magic age of 70.

“I do not live in your district,” Winham said in an email to Claitor. “I am 70.  I take offense at this bill and I am sure I am not alone. Is this one of those bills where you are trying to punish an individual elected official or do you really believe ALL of us who have reached age 70 are senile or otherwise incapable of serving in public office?”

Claitor was less than diplomatic in his response to Winham:

“I am glad you take offense to SB 276. I will assume that you also take offense to requiring judge’s (sic) to retire at age 70. Please stay tuned to the debate. Thank you.”

Besides his apparent inability to correctly spell the plural of judge despite holding a law degree (it doesn’t take an apostrophe, Dan), Claitor also appears to have a propensity to be a bit snotty with critics. Not a good trait for an elected official.

Stay tuned, folks. The “debate” should be interesting.

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…And we thought that Attorney General Jeff Landry was a horn-tooting self-promoter, who loved to tout his prosecutorial “accomplishments” while conveniently ignoring more blatant wrongdoing.

Turns out Landry should be watching State Inspector General Stephen B. Street and taking notes on how to fool all the people all the time—or at least make a pretty decent effort at doing so.

Street has just released his 29-page 2017 ANNUAL REPORT and network television must already be poring over it as the possible basis for a weekly series on crime fighting. Or maybe a sitcom. Either way, with all the tax breaks for movie and television production being given away by the state, the show is certain to be profitable while making Street a star in the process.

Eleven photographs are included in the annual report and Street’s smiling face is included in every single one. Here’s what one observer said of the photos: “…only one other staff member, an investigator, gets in one. Boy he must have done something really special to merit being the single staff member to be picked to be in a picture with the boss in the annual report. I am sure this did wonders for office morale.

“Street couldn’t even see the way clear to have a group picture of the whole staff in what only can be considered his annual report? I guess he couldn’t get the, as described very limited, 14 staff members in the same room to have one taken (probably has a shortage of meeting space also).”

Street, who undoubtedly wears a large red “S” on his chest, chronicles how his office beat back efforts by legislators in 2012 and 2016 to shut his office down for ineffectiveness—although his office, like most other agencies, has endured appropriations cutbacks.

Of those efforts to shut him down, Street, somewhat smugly philosophizes: “The 2016 OIG funding fight in Louisiana was simply the latest reminder of what comes with the territory in the Inspector General business. If you do the job aggressively – and we have — folks will come after you. It’s absolutely guaranteed. It was also a great reminder that the public is overwhelmingly supportive of Inspectors General, and we should never forget this.”

So, let’s review just how he has done his job “aggressively” to see who it prompted to “come after” him.

Street’s office, in response to a November 2016 public records request from LouisianaVoice, provided a list of FUNDS RECOVERED totaling more than $5.3 million since July 1, 2013, for which he claimed credit. No one on that list who might “come after” street—just low-hanging fruit. Easy pickings don’t often “go after” anyone.

Of course, the recovery of funds is quite different from orders of restitution, which was what each of these cases was. An order of restitution means little if there are no funds to be recovered.

“We have no information regarding amounts collected by those office and we receive none of the funds,” said OIG General Counsel Joseph Lotwick in a letter to LouisianaVoice.

In the case of Deborah Loper, for example, most of the million dollars ordered repaid had long since disappeared into slot machines at area casinos so any real chance of restitution is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. Still, Street listed that as a recovery of funds.

The LouisianaVoice request was made pursuant to Street’s claim for an accounting of public funds recovery stemming from OIG investigations.

Moreover, what Street’s office did not say, the difficulty of actually collecting notwithstanding, is that the OIG’s role in many of the above investigations was secondary to the U.S. Attorney’s role and restitution payments, if any, are made through either U.S. Probation or, in the case of the state’s being the lead prosecutor, to Louisiana Probation and Parole.

Nor did Street happen to mention the investigations by his office that either blew up in his face or simply did not occur. Even though most, if not all, actually occurred prior to 2017, they’re still worth mentioning:

  • The Murphy Painter fiasco, orchestrated by Bobby Jindal and Steve Waguespack, which resulted in the federal criminal trial of Painter who was cleared of all charges and the state had to pony up his legal fees of $474,000;
  • The illegal raid on the home and offices of Corey DelaHoussaye under the mistaken assumption (Street’s an attorney: attorneys should never “assume”) that DelaHoussaye was contracted to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) when in fact, he was contracted to the Livingston Parish Council where he had no jurisdiction (embarrassing). DelaHoussaye was subsequently exonerated of all charges.
  • Likewise, it was Street’s office that investigated and found no wrongdoing in the case of two assistant district attorneys in CADDO PARISHwho applied for a grant to obtain eight automatic M-16 rifles from the Department of Defense’s Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO). The two claimed on their application that they, as part of a Special Investigations Section (SIS), “routinely participate in high-risk surveillance and arrests (sic) activities with the Shreveport Police and Caddo Sheriff.” Persons interviewed from both agencies, however, refuted the claim that SIS employees took part in such operations.
  • Street also failed to follow through on an investigation into widespread abuses by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry. The board, with the aid of its investigator who employed questionable methods, was imposing excessively high fines against dentists for relative minor infractions and even bankrupted one dentist who blew the whistle on faulty jaw implants developed by a dentist at the LSU School of Dentistry.
  • Retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet said he filed a formal complaint on February 19 with Street’s office against the four State Troopers who drove the state vehicle to San Diego last October but never received an acknowledgement from Street. “I know he received because I sent the complaint by certified return receipt mail,” Millet said. Of course, it turned out that what Street’s office could not or would not do, the Baton Rouge Advocate’s Jim Mustian, New Orleans TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik and LouisianaVoice did—and we know the outcome of that.
  • Street said there was nothing to investigate when a gravity drainage district in Calcasieu Parish refused to pay contractor Billy Broussard a million dollars for work he did in dredging canals after hurricanes in 2005 and 2006. Broussard performed the work he was asked to do and the district refused to pay him, yet Street said there was nothing to investigate.
  • And he’s done nothing toward investigating possible human trafficking in the baby adoption racket in Louisiana, despite the persistent efforts of Craig Mills to get both Street and Landry involved in the investigation.

Of course, in listing the successful prosecutions (again, low-hanging fruit—people who are a lock not to “go after” him), Street is careful to see to it that his office is cited in all 10 reports—even if he had to insert the recognition himself, which he does in eight of the cases. Five of the reports were actually press releases from the U.S. Attorney’s office but Street piggy-backed them in his annual report.

But perhaps the best indicator of the effectiveness of Street’s office turns up in the report on 2017 travel expenses for his office.

That report shows that the office spent only $57.13 for in-state travel to conferences and just $509.11 on instate field travel (investigations).

But the office spent $2,564.46 on out-of-state travel to conventions and conferences.

Of 376 complaints received in 2017, OIG opened 60 investigations. The 2016 numbers showed 42 investigations opened on 401 complaints.

 

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Louisiana residents victimized by floods and hurricanes don’t need a reminder of the frustrating-ineptness of the Feeble Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or of the soul-crushing corruption of the Department of Housing and Urban Discrimination (HUD).

FEMA trailers, more appropriately designed as egg incubators than dwellings for human beings, stand as mute testimony to mismanagement on a grand scale. At a COST of $150,000 to $170,000 per trailer, including purchase and set-up following the 2016 flood, only to SELL the units for as little as $5,000 each a year later, it’s difficult to imagine even the Pentagon being able to match FEMA in a waste-for-waste competition.

With 144,000 trailers PLACED following hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike, and another 4,500 (upgrades vastly superior to the earlier models but still little better than a tent) following the 2016 floods, one can readily see how FEMA now claims to be broke.

Another reason? Try this: Following Hurricane Katrina, The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square) after Katrina. That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

In normal circumstances, MIKE LOWERY, an estimator for an Austin, Texas, company, said, his company would charge $300 to tarp a 2000-square-foot roof in Austin. For that same size job, the government is paying $2,980 to $3,500, or about 10 times as much, plus additional administrative fees that couldn’t be readily calculated.

FEMA ISSUED 81,241 blue roof tarps across Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said spokesman Aaron Walker ($14.2 million total cost: $8.1 million for Shaw as opposed to $162,000 for those who did the actual work).

But if you think that’s bad, consider this: “Overall, Restore Louisiana (the program set up to assist flood victims) has awarded $207 million of the $1.3 billion allotment from the federal government to homeowners,” according to a story in the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. Of that amount, only $60.5 million has actually been paid to those driven out of their homes by the floods. The remaining $147 million is being paid in increments to contractors as work progresses.

At the same time, however, the state has shelled out $75 million to IEM, the contracted administrator for environmental reviews and program management. That means administrative costs are 23.4 percent higher than the amount actually spent helping flood victims. Said another way, the amount spent on actual work is only 80 percent of administrative costs so far.

IEM’s total contract to administer the $1.3 billion Restore Louisiana program is for an eye-popping $308 million. That computes to administrative costs that are 19.25 percent of the total contract but which appear to be running closer to 26.6 percent at the present time.

Contrast that, if you will, with contracts the Ruston firm of Hunt, Guillot has received to date to administer Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the recovery of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike and to administer CDBG funds for the Restore Louisiana program set up immediately following the 2016 floods.

Hunt, Guillot received a contract for $18.2 million to administer the disbursement of $7.5 billion in grant funds for LOUISIANA. That contract ran from Oct. 31, 2007, to Oct. 30, 2010. The firm was given an additional contract of $3 million for the period of Feb. 1, 2011, through June 3, 2011 for Katrina and Rita recovery grant funds. IEM’s $308 million contract is 14.5 times the size of Hunt, Guillot’s $21.2 million in contracts even though Hunt, Guillot oversaw the disbursement of nearly six times the amount in federal grants that IEM is responsible for.

IEM’s contract was not without CONTROVERSY, but it probably didn’t hurt that IEM and the company’s CEO, Madhu Beriwal, combined to contribute $15,000 to the campaign of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

But even putting aside all the outrageous administrative costs that are eating up dollars intended to help flood victims, here is the one overriding factor that leads writers like Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) and others to write INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS about the incestuous relationship between natural disasters and corruption?

Could it be that 19 months after thousands of Louisiana residents were forced out of their homes in South Louisiana, only $207 million of a total allocation of $1.3 billion for reconstruction has been approved and checks written for only $60 million even as administrative costs mount?

Could it be that a visit to observe activities at Restore Louisiana headquarters reminds visitors of the organizational skills of a sack of rats in a burning meth lab?

Could it be the frustration encountered by State Rep. Rogers Pope who, first told he qualified for an SBA loan of $250,000 (even though he never applied) but later told it was actually for a lesser amount, responded that he was not interested in a loan of any description but that $50,000 was nevertheless deposited in his bank account by the SBA—and when he insisted again that he did not want the money, was charged $384 in interest for the week that it was in his bank account? (for those of you who may be wondering, that computes to an annual interest rate of 40 percent.) And get this: Pope is a member of the Restore Louisiana Task Force and even he can’t deal with the feds.

Could it be that an applicant who applied for assistance was told that because he had obtained an SBA loan of $124,000, he was ineligible for a grant? The person in question here was yours truly and I was told that the loan was considered a benefit. I’m a 74-year-old retiree on a fixed income, with a brand-new $124,000 mortgage and I’m supposed to consider that a benefit?

What’s more, I’m told, even if I had been offered the loan, and turned it down, I’d still be ineligible because it was offered. (I think that’s what’s called a Catch-22.) And just to add insult to injury, I was told (after at least four separate on-site inspections by FEMA, Restore Louisiana, and Shelter at Home) I was only allowed $60,000 for reconstruction (someone needs to tell my contractor who charged what I considered to be a reasonable fee of $90,000 to make my home livable again—the remainder went to replace furniture and appliances).

I was told at the time of receiving the news of my ineligibility that I could, of course, appeal. “But the appeal won’t do any good,” the nice man said, “because we’re only going by the rules established by FEMA and HUD guidelines.” (A Catch-22 variable.)

It’s the kind of FUBAR guvmint that can send you to a padded room where you’re allowed only crayons as a means of communication.

And if you think I’m angry, consider the frustration level of Stephen Winham of St. Francisville.

Winham, often a LouisianaVoice guest columnist, for 12 years was the state’s budget director, serving under three governors, so he, of all people, should be accustomed to navigating the confusing waters of state bureaucracy. He was, nevertheless, finally moved to send the following email to an official of Restore Louisiana:

I have NEVER seen as poorly run a program as Restore Louisiana and I have seen some poorly run programs in my 21 years of state budget analysis.  If the contractor for whom you work represents the benefits of privatizing public services we are in deep manure, particularly since our worst governor ever, Bobby Jindal, moved us to new heights in that direction.

I have talked on the phone and communicated with your company many times.  I did not initially apply because I knew I was not eligible.  I allowed one of your employees to talk me into applying anyhow, so I did – I assume this was done to get the numbers up.  In subsequent steps, it was confirmed I was never eligible and should never have bent to the pressure put on me to apply.  In other words, I was officially ruled ineligible months ago.

This correspondence and any phone conversations I might have with you would be a waste of my time – your company is apparently going to get its money no matter what so I have no interest in saving you money.  Your company has spent $75 million on itself so far and only disbursed $60 million to the people who really need it – the homeowners.  Do you not see a problem with that?

Although I am not eligible, I have a sister-in-law who is.  My wife and I have tried to help her work through the many meaningless steps necessary to get her Restore Louisiana grant and she has not gotten a dime yet.  My wife has hauled her down to Celtic Studios more than once.  She has had visits from what I assume are project managers/coordinators many times.  She has completed the necessary paperwork at every step.  She has been advised of the amount of her “award” (her part of the $207 million in reported awards, $147 million of which apparently remain undisbursed), but has gotten ZERO.  The people who live across the street from my East Baton Rouge property just started LAST WEEK on work to restore their home pursuant to their Restore Louisiana “award”

I think your company is taking the public for a ride – oh, I know, this is federal money – I am doing my federal taxes today – I guess that never was my money to begin with, or something.  These things should be block granted.  If the eligible recipients take their grants down to a convenient casino and blow it rather than fixing their homes, that’s their problem and it is also better than creating what to me is essentially a pyramid of contractors and sub-contractors each getting their golden crumbs as the grants trickle down to the people who should be getting the money.

Sorry for taking this out on you and you probably haven’t even read this far, but on the off chance you have, LEAVE ME ALONE and devote your attention to eligible recipients many of whom have been waiting over a year and a half for relief.

Your federal—and state—guvmint hard at work for you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. The best we can hope for is that we never need the their “help” in the future.

(Editor’s note: for the record, a class-action lawsuit is being considered because of the discriminatory policies of HUD and FEMA. More details on that as they are forthcoming.)

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